Water Ways

Delft in the Netherlands for the water project on Thursday, November 7, 2019.
Credit Chris Granger/Times-Picayune | The Advocate

Nearly 5,000 miles apart on this changing planet, New Orleans and the Netherlands have one big challenge in common: water.

New Orleans Public Radio and The Times Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate sent reporters Tegan Wendland and Tristan Baurick to the Netherlands to explore new best practices around water management and climate change adaptation.

The resulting series — part of the Pulitzer Center's nationwide Connected Coastlines initiative — digs into how we can adapt to river flooding and more intense storms, how we undo past mistakes, what it means to "build with nature" and much more.

This is Water Ways: Dutch Lessons for a Changing Coast.

Tristan Baurick / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

LAKE MARKEN, The Netherlands — Marker Wadden is a lush, green, man-made archipelago in a big, gray, man-made lake. Its 25,000 square acres are meant to provide a refuge for birds and wildlife that many decades ago disappeared from this shallow body of water when it was turned fresh. Lately, it’s become a refuge for people, too.

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

Climate change is bringing heavier rain and bigger storms — new challenges for old cities.

Amsterdam is only a few feet above sea level and water has always been a part of the culture. There are more than 160 canals wind through the old city.

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

By Tristan Baurick, Times Picayune | The Advocate

ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands -- Eveline Bronsdijk knew she'd done her job when the people of Rotterdam began debating whether pigs should be allowed on rooftops.

In 2012, Bronsdijk, the city’s sustainability adviser, was trying to promote green roofs, thin layers of plants that make buildings cooler, the air cleaner and — most importantly for Rotterdam — gutters and storm drains drier.

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

Last summer the Mississippi River and many of its tributaries flooded for months, causing more than $20 billion dollars in damage. Climate change is bringing more heavy and frequent rainstorms, a threat many flood protection systems were not built for. Rivers creep over levees or burst them. There’s nowhere for the water to go.

The Dutch have long been proud tamers of rivers. They have built huge networks of levees to keep rising waters away from farms and cities. But now officials are trying what seems like an obvious approach: making room for the water.

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

By Tristan Baurick, Times-Picayune | The Advocate

NOORDWAARD, The Netherlands — Vic Gremmer walked through an invisible garden and reached for a doorknob that wasn’t there.

“Here was the opening of the front door,” he said, holding out his hand in a marshy landscape of reeds and willows near a river about 10 miles from Rotterdam. “Here was my home. Over there, the road. But all of it is changed.”

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

The Netherlands is a coastal nation and faces similar threats to Louisiana, like rising seas, stronger storms and a sinking coast. Over the past thousand years, the Dutch have built giant floodwalls and levees to protect them from the North Sea, just like officials continue to do in Louisiana.

But climate change is bringing new threats, and the Dutch are trying some unusual approaches. They are rebuilding land with the power of nature, using some tools that we could use here in Louisiana.

Times-Picayune | The Advocate

By Tristan Baurick, Times Picayune | The Advocate

TER HEIJDE, The Netherlands — With a surfboard strapped to his feet and the reins of a giant kite in his hands, Daan Vijverberg skimmed over whitecaps on the Netherlands’ windy south coast. Nearby, other kiteboarders caught gusts strong enough to fling their wetsuited bodies several feet into the air.

“It’s addictive,” Vijverberg said, emerging from the water with a red face and the sniffles. “I have to come two, three times a week.”

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

By Tristan Baurick, Times-Picayune | The Advocate

Up close is not the best way to see the world’s biggest gate.

Standing alongside it from one end, where a three-story hinge links to a massive steel lattice, the Maeslant storm surge barrier resembles three crane towers toppled across one another. From the opposite end, nearly 280 yards away, it’s an imposing white wall, like a drive-in movie screen stretched the length of 2½ football fields.

And that’s only half of it.

Chris Granger / Times-Picayune | The Advocate

After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials sought advice from the Dutch.

It makes sense. In the Netherlands, people have been managing water for a thousand years. Coastal communities across the world are now facing new climate threats — rising seas, more intense storms and heavier rain.

(Chris Granger/Times-Picayune | The Advocate)

After Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana officials sought advice from the Dutch. Which makes sense: in the Netherlands people have been managing water for about a thousand years. Coastal communities across the world are now facing new existential threats — rising seas, more intense storms and heavier rain.